Junior Grant Onken enjoyed a breakthrough season for the Dublin Coffman High School boys cross country team last year, as he moved up the ladder to become the No. 2 runner and help the Shamrocks win three regular season meets.

Junior Grant Onken enjoyed a breakthrough season for the Dublin Coffman High School boys cross country team last year, as he moved up the ladder to become the No. 2 runner and help the Shamrocks win three regular season meets.

However, two days before Coffman competed in the OCC-Central Division meet, Onken noticed that the lower-left portion of his back felt sore.

When he woke up in the middle of that same night, Onken's back hurt so badly that he was forced to walk with a limp and was in extreme pain when he moved up and down the staircase of his home.

Four days later, Onken was in so much pain that he had trouble walking from classroom to classroom and even was uncomfortable sitting at a desk.

Within two weeks, Onken was diagnosed with having scoliosis, which in his case is a lateral curve in the spine that caused a slight postural imbalance. Because of the scoliosis, Onken's left internal abdominal oblique muscle was stronger and larger on his left side, which caused him to utilize that muscle more heavily and strain it while running.

As a result, Onken was unable to compete in the OCC-Central and Division I district 2 meets, and when he did return to compete in the regional and state meets, he was unable to perform to his usual standard, as he finished as Coffman's No. 7 runner at regional and No. 5 runner at state.

"The whole experience was really disappointing because we were having such a good season and I wanted to help my team place high at state," said Onken, whose squad finished 13th in the 16-team state meet behind champion Cleveland St. Ignatius (82). "I kept hoping the pain in my back was going to go away, and it got to the point where I woke up every morning afraid to move, because I was afraid to find out that it was still there. I did everything I could to come back and run at regional, but then I had the worst race of my life there, and I didn't do anything too spectacular at state either. Over the winter, there was some doubt in my mind whether I was going to be able to run cross country again, because I was afraid the pain might come back."

During the winter, Onken attended several physical therapy sessions where he learned to do exercises that strengthened the muscles throughout the core of his body.

Dr. Robin Hunter, a sports chiropractor for Ohio State University Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, also helped relieve Onken's pain and improved his running form through exercises, deep tissue massage and acupuncture.

After Onken bounced back from his injury to lead Coffman's 3.200-meter relay to a fourth-place finish in the Division I state track and field meet on June 5, he decided he was going to give cross country another shot.

Coach Chad Biegler is thrilled that Onken has returned, as he has finished as the No. 3 runner twice and as their No. 7 runner once in his three races.

"Obviously, we're a considerably better team when Grant's running for us," Biegler said. "It definitely made a difference last year when Grant injured his back and couldn't run, so I'm hopeful that he will stay healthy this year, and make a difference for us in a positive way."

Onken's return to cross country hasn't been easy, as he missed Coffman's first meet after he tweaked his back during a training session.

During some of Coffman's tougher workouts, Onken has had to run on a track instead of a field after he felt pain.

Despite those setbacks, Onken finished 14th in the Lebanon Invitational in 16 minutes, 25 seconds on Sept. 4, he placed 18th (16:29.6) in the McGowan Invitational on Sept. 11, and he finished 40th (17:57) of 109 runners last Saturday in the Bob Reall Invitational.

"We've found that even surfaces are easier for Grant's back to tolerate, so our goal is to bring him along gradually, so he can peak later in the season," Biegler said. "Grant's running similar times to what he was running at this point last season, and if we can keep him healthy, I think we may see him begin to progress some more, once we get to the more important meets at the end of the season."

Onken said his ultimate goal is to make an impact at the league and postseason meets.

"It feels great to be back out there running cross country again, and I'll definitely be very happy when I get to compete in the big races, because I feel like that will mark the end of my injuries," Onken said. "My goals are to get my time down to around 16-flat, and to help my team make it back to state, to get top five there. Before I graduate, I want to finish in the top 25 at state to get all-Ohio individually. That would be a great way to complete my comeback."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Coffman, Jerome and Scioto boys and girls cross country teams:

COFFMAN

Sept. 18 - Boys: Finished first (82) in 24-team Alliance Invitational ahead of runner-up Cincinnati Oak Hills (98); Girls: Finished third (82) in 16-team Alliance Invitational behind Mason (63) and Springboro (79)

Last Saturday - Boys: Finished second (81) in 16-team Bob Reall Invitational behind Westerville North (64); Girls: Finished second (53) in 12-team Bob Reall Invitational behind Upper Arlington (48)

Saturday - Midwest Meet of Champions at Hilliard Darby

JEROME

Last Saturday - Boys: Competed in Otterbein Invitational; Girls: Competed in Otterbein Invitational

Saturday - Boys: London Invitational at London Country Club; Girls: Kettering Fairmont Firebird Classic at Indian Riffle Park

SCIOTO

Sept. 18 - Boys: Finished 19th (453) in 29-team Galion Invitational behind champion Cincinnati Elder (74)

Last Saturday - Boys: Finished sixth (192) in 16-team Bob Reall Invitational behind Westerville North (64); Girls: Finished third (130) in 18-team Cloverleaf Colt Pack Invitational behind Hoover (67) and Brecksville-Broadview Heights (89)

Saturday - Girls: Buck Creek Invitational at Buck Creek State Park

Oct. 9 - Les Eisenhart Invitational at Thomas Worthington